Cecil the lion : US govt mum on Zim’s request

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HARARE – The United States government has backed away from giving any more public comments on the administration’s handling of Zimbabwe’s extradition request for the American dentist who shot a prized big cat, Cecil the lion .

Cecil the lion

Cecil the lion

In a carefully-worded statement, US embassy spokesperson Karen Kelley told the Daily News that due to privacy regulations, the Harare embassy cannot speak on the extradition of Palmer.

“We are aware of the reports that a US citizen was involved in the death of Cecil the Lion,” Kelly said.

“For inquiries regarding any law enforcement aspects of the case, we refer you to the Government of Zimbabwe or the Department of Justice.”

The US Department of Justice was yet to respond to questions from the Daily News whether Palmer would be extradited or not.

Kelly said she was not prepared to give additional detail on the extradition of the dentist over the killing of 13-year-old Cecil — a major tourist drawcard at Hwange National Park.

“As a matter of policy, we do not comment on extradition requests,” she clarified.

US State Department spokesperson Mark Toner also declined to discuss Zimbabwe’s request.

“I can more broadly talk about extradition and how that process works, if it’s helpful,” Toner told Voice of America (VOA).

“They are received by the Department of State through diplomatic channels, and State works closely with the Department of Justice to determine whether an incoming extradition request meets the requirements of the applicable treaty.

“The Department of Justice then presents the request to a US court that determines whether the individual is extraditable. After those judicial proceedings have been completed, it’s the secretary of state who makes the final decision on whether to extradite an individual to another country.

“And, obviously, humanitarian concerns and the ability of an individual to receive a fair trial may be considered at this stage of the process.”

Zimbabwe has demanded the extradition of Walter Palmer and hopes the United States will cooperate, said Environment minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, on Friday.

Palmer “had a well-orchestrated agenda which would tarnish the image of Zimbabwe and further strain the relationship between Zimbabwe and the US,” Muchinguri-Kashiri said.

Palmer, his professional hunter guide, and the owner of the land where the hunt took place are accused of an illegal hunt under Zimbabwe’s Parks and Wildlife Act, Muchinguri-Kashiri said in a statement.

Palmer is accused of financing an illegal hunt, he and the professional hunter are also accused of illegally using a crossbow “to conceal the illegal hunt” so they would not alert rangers on patrol, she said.

The landowner allegedly allowed the hunt to be conducted without a lion quota and without the necessary permit, Muchinguri-Kashiri said.

“The professional hunter, client and land owner were therefore all engaged in poaching of the lion,” she said.

“This must be condemned in the strongest possible terms by all genuine, animal-loving conservationists who believe in sustainable utilisation of natural resources,” she added.

Palmer shot Cecil with a bow and arrow after luring him out of Hwange National Park into the Gwai Conservancy using a carcass. Cecil, recognised by the black streaks in his mane, suffered a slow death after being shot by a gun.

Professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst of Bushman Safaris and Honest Ndlovu owner of Antoinette Farm, the land on which Cecil was shot, were released on bail by magistrate Lindiwe Maphosa.

Palmer, from Minnesota, has said he relied on the expertise of local guides “to ensure a legal hunt”.

“I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favourite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt,” Palmer said in a statement last week.

He allegedly paid $50 000 in early July to hunt the lion.

Following the request to have Palmer extradited, the Zimbabwe government immediately suspended all hunting of lions, leopards and elephants in areas outside of Hwange National Park, while all hunters in the field were directed to withdraw.

Chairperson of the Gwai Valley Farmers Association Mark Russell said the association has distanced itself from the killing, demanding justice to prevail.

Russell said Cecil’s killing was an act of poaching as it was not conducted with a lion hunting permit and was not authorised by the farmers’ association.

“Every lion hunt in the Gwai Valley area is authorised by the Executive Committee of the Association,” Russell said.

“Regrettably, this hunt in particular, was never authorised by us, nor did we know about it. This illegal hunt came as a shocker to us, as we did not even issue lion permits for 2015.”

Meanwhile in Washington, US Senator Robert Menendez has introduced legislation called Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large, Animal Trophies Act. It would expand import bans to species proposed for listing as threatened or endangered, as well as those already considered endangered, according to VOA.

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